“Great events turn on small hinges.”
I love Stephen King. This has not been a lifelong truth, and my infatuation began a mere 5 or so years ago. Since then, I’ve read a third of his body of work, and I’ve been largely impressed. While I do believe that King would benefit from a harsher editor, and that he often fails to stick that landing with his endings, Stephen King has an incredible mind. The plots he dreams up, and the characters he creates to populate those stories, are pretty spectacular and always feel original. While I’ve enjoyed everything of his I’ve read at least in part, some of his books are more successful than others. The Institute is just such a book. The plot was disturbing and vaguely supernatural without seeming implausible. The cast of characters was beautifully fleshed out and varied. And the ending didn’t suck!
“It came to him, with the force of a revelation, that you had to have been imprisoned to fully understand what freedom was.”
Luke Ellis is a brilliant kid. Like, seriously brilliant. Accepted into two colleges at the age of twelve brilliant. But Luke’s mind isn’t what gets him kidnapped from home in the middle of the night. Or rather, not his intellect. His mind has a latent ability that draws the attention of a secret organization known only as The Institute. When Luke wakes up, he’s in a near perfect replica of his own bedroom, but with one startling difference: there are no windows. In the halls, he meets other kids like himself, kidnapped children with mostly weak traces of telekinesis or telepathy. But what does the Institute want with them? The answer is revealed piece by disturbing piece. Luke and his friends have to find a way out, a way to stop the Institute. But what can a ragtag group of kids do against such an organization? I don’t know that this was truly a horror story, but the knowledge that such a thing could possibly exist, and that so many thousands of children disappear every year and are never found, is one of the most horrifying ideas ever.
“He was only twelve, and understood that his experience of the world was limited, but one thing he was sure of: when someone said trust me, they were usually lying through their teeth.”
King really excels at capturing the voices of children. Luke is a phenomenal character who I rooted for with my entire being. His friends were wonderful as well, but Luke was undoubtedly the star of the show. I love how hard Luke had worked to seem like a regular kid despite his enormous intellect, and how he was able to use the fact that adults underestimated him to his advantage. Luke is brave and kind and fiercely loyal, and I had no problem believing that he’s probably one of the most intelligent people on the face of the Earth. I was blown away by him as a character. Another character, who I won’t mention by name because I don’t want to spoil said character’s arc, broke my heart more than once.
“It was so simple, but it was a revelation: what you did for yourself was what gave you the power.”
One of my favorite things about reading a Stephen King novel is the thrill of hunting for little Easter eggs referencing other stories he’s penned. The Institute was no exception to that, and I found small references to multiple other books sprinkled throughout. I love that someone who decides to make The Institute their first King novel won’t be missing anything if they don’t catch these references, but that King rewards his Constant Readers with these tiny, delightful tidbits that recall to their minds the other works of his they’ve read and loved.
“But there were no words, and maybe no need of them. Or telepathy. Sometimes a hug was telepathy.”
I would happily recommend this book to just about everyone. Whether you’re a horror fan or stay far away from the genre, whether you’ve been reading King for decades or decided on a whim to give him a try with this book, I think you’ll find something to love here. I honestly believe that this is one of the strongest books he’s written in recent years outside of Sleeping Beauties, which he coauthored with his younger son. The Institute is more philosophically disturbing than visceral, and it gave me a lot of food for thought. It’s amazing that so many decades into his writing career, King just keeps getting better and better. I can’t wait to see what he creates next.
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